Republican Party leaders turned a cold shoulder to public financing of congressional campaigns yesterday, and instead proposed legislation that would raise the limits on political party expenditures.
They said the change would do much to revive the vigor of the two-party system and offset the evils, whether real or imagined, that have been attributed to the proliferation of independent political action committees (PACs) and the special interests they represent.
Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), general chairman of the Republican Party, said at a briefing that current restrictions on political party expenditures for House and Senate candidates amount to a "straitjacket that has been imposed on the party structure."
"The party's influence on individual candidates is almost de minimis," Laxalt said.
In 1972, he continued, political parties provided 17.3 percent of the total receipts for a candidate's campaign, but last year, that support dropped to 2 percent. Meanwhile, the influence of political action committees and the importance of a candidate's personal wealth have increased sharply.
"There should be no limit on the amount political parties can spend or contribute on behalf of their candidates for public office," Laxalt testified later before the Senate Rules Committee. "If you increase the importance of political parties, you decrease the importance of the PACs."
Laxalt and other Republican leaders, including Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Reps. Bill Frenzel of Minnesota and Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan, outlined their bill at a breakfast meeting with reporters and again at the Rules Committee hearing where discontent with federal election laws--and with the Federal Election Commission--was a recurring theme.
The final witnesses, by their own description "a curious group of political bedfellows," were former senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.), Terry Dolan, chairman of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, and Stewart Mott, "an unabashed fat cat" for liberal causes.
They said they had banded together as the Committee for Free and Open Elections, and suggested that it is time to start dismantling "excessively complex" rules.
Like the GOP leaders, they expressed disdain for the so-called "Clean Campaign Act" that dozens of House Democrats are promoting in concert with Common Cause, the self-styled citizens' lobby.
This would impose a $90,000 limit on the total contributions a House candidate could receive from PACs in an election cycle and institute partial public financing for candidates who agree to limit their spending.
McCarthy said if the idea of government financing and control of the election process had been presented to the Founding Fathers, "I think that proposal would have been run out of the hall."
Lugar, chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, argued that the Republican approach was much preferable to trying to limit PAC influence through legislation.
"Often," Lugar said, "PAC decisons are arrived at far more democratically than are the decisions of those groups which attack them."
The GOP bill would allow party committees to make direct contributions of up to $15,000 for House candidates and $30,000 for Senate candidates and would remove all limits on party spending on their behalf for such services as polling, telephone banks and advertising.
It would also allow presidential candidates to spend more during the party primaries and caucuses and would eliminate the present state-by-state spending limits.